Unsolved Murders

Sarah Ann Jones

Age: 13

Sex: female

Date: 7 Aug 1904

Place: St Helens, Liverpool

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Sarah Ann Jones died from arsenic poisoning.

Her foster mother was tried for her murder but found not guilty.

She had been adopted from the workhouse.

Sarah Jones had been insured at several offices for £20.

Her step mother and father were both arrested after the step mother tried to commit suicide and Sarah Jones, along with another child that had died 4 years earlier, were then exhumed after having been buried. The other child was however ruled to have died from debility.

The body of Sarah Jones was dug up after being buried a week on 20 August 1904 whilst the boy that was exhumed had been in the ground for 4 years.

Traces of arsenic were found in Sarah Jones's liver, stomach, intestines, kidneys, lungs and brain. The analyst who examined the body said that in a case where arsenic was found throughout the body it followed that the poison had been introduced some time before death. He said that the quantity found represented a portion of the whole that had been given and that the original quantity given would have been a much larger and fatal amount. He added that it was not normal to see arsenic spread throughout the body.

He also examined the contents of a number of bottles found in the house but said that none of them had contained arsenic.

The analyst also said that he thought that the poison had been administered in small doses because otherwise it would not have been so disseminated through the body. However, he also said that it was otherwise impossible to say whether the arsenic had been administered in one large dose or a number of smaller doses over time.

The doctor who had attended Sarah Jones said that she had appeared to have been suffering from gastritis and that he treated her for that complaint and when she died he certified her death as being due to gastric exhaustion. However, he added at the inquest that he had no doubt now that death was due to poison.

Another doctor that had attended the mother over the years said that her first child died of gastritis and convulsions in November 1895, another child aged 2 months died in July 1897 from a similar complaint. He said another child also died from convulsions aged 2 weeks. He said that in all three cases death came after a few days of illness. He said that when he gave the mother the third certificate he was struck by her manner saying that she seemed unnatural and jubilant and had laughed over the thing and had said that she was better off.

The doctor said that he had also been called in to see the boy that had died in 1904 who was exhumed for the inquest in June 1900 but had found nothing wrong with him and so he had not prescribed any medicine. However, he said that the mother had seemed desirous for the child to die. He said that he was called in again in July 1904 but again prescribed no medicine and then again in August 1904 when the mother told him that the boy was going to die and would not take any food. He said that when he went in August he asked the mother for some milk and said that she had hesitated and that when he gave the boy some milk he took it voraciously. He said that the mother called him again the next day saying that it was bad again and that when he called he found nothing wrong.

He said that the mother then told him again that the boy was going to die suddenly and that she would come to his house that night or the following day for a certificate but the doctor said that he would not provide a certificate adding that a post-mortem would be required to find out how he had died. He said that he had qualified that statement saying that it might help save other children in the future.

The doctor said that he went back to the house the next day and the mother told him that the boy was now splendid and as bright as a lark and that if there was any change she would let him know.

The doctor said that he became suspicious and informed the police and when Sarah Jones died he went to see the new doctor.

The inquest heard that white arsenic was a by-product at the St. Helens Chemical Works and it was often taken home by the workers there to poison vermin.

Sarah Jones had been received to the Whinston workhouse when she was 6 years old and was later boarded out to the family in 1901 by the Prescot Board of Guardians and three years later she was adopted by them. The staff at the Prescot Union said that Sarah Jones was a fine and healthy child at that time and that they gave the family £9. 16s. per year from the time that they had adopted her.

An insurance agent said that 4 days after Sarah Jones came under the care of the family they had insured her with the Royal London Friendly Society for £20. 12s. at death with a payment of 2d.. The insurance agent said that that amount was then paid, minus 15s. arrears after Sarah Jones died.

A man who had been engaged to a daughter of the mother accused said that he had eaten some cabbage which Sarah Jones had also eaten and said that it had made him poorly too.

Two women friends that had been to see Sarah Jones said that the mother had said to them 'Yes, I think she is dying as fast as she can. She won't be here at dinner-time'.

An insurance agent who had been to see Sarah Jones said that he remarked to the mother that there was something unnatural about Sarah Jones that he could not understand but said that the mother just nodded her head and appeared very upset.

The inquest heard that the mother owed money to some travelling drapers and had paid £8 for Sarah Jones's funeral. They were also told that the mother had once tried to commit suicide in a pond.

When the mother was questioned at the inquest she said that she had had 13 children, 12 of whom she had buried.

The Coroner noted that a person might die from arsenic poisoning even though no arsenic was found in the body saying that it depended on the period during which the body had a chance to get rid of the poison.

He noted that Sarah Jones had been in bed for 4 days during which she was only able to take what was given to her adding that the mother was the only person in a position to carry out an unlawful act.

He also stated that the mother was in arrears in all seven of her insurance policies that she had in the house and that they were about to become void. He also noted that the mother owed money to the drapers.

He concluded that it was not common sense to suppose that Sarah Jones had administered the poison to herself in a number of smaller doses.

The mother was sent to trial at the assizes but acquitted.


*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.


see Western Times - Saturday 10 December 1904

see Shields Daily Gazette - Tuesday 23 August 1904

see Dundee Courier - Saturday 10 December 1904

see London Daily News - Tuesday 23 August 1904

see National Archives - ASSI 52/95